Sermon 19th June, Father's Day

Readings Galatians 3, 23-29, Luke 15, 11-32


Today is Father’s Day.

 We pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….

Words we use week in week out in church and in our personal prayers, words Jesus taught his disciples when they asked how they should pray. For Jesus, a very natural term as the son of God, and for those who, like me had wonderful fathers, an imagery, that of the perfect father, that is a useful way of considering one aspect of God.

Sadly, not everyone has such good experiences of their fathers, and thus that imagery can be difficult, and it is important we recognise that and are compassionate. Thus, you will sometimes hear me refer to Mother God, and sometimes refer to the Holy Spirit with a feminine pronoun, and certainly God’s wisdom, or Wisdom is frequently described in female terms in the Bible. Often, you will find me actively avoiding using gendered pronouns, and perhaps, when referring to our three in one God, the use of “they”, whilst satisfying the most gender sensitive people, would actually be more accurate in its plural sense.

Some traditionalists find such changes or references difficult, or unnecessary, or dismiss it all as politically correct nonsense, but including different genders when referring to God is nothing new. Julian of Norwich for instance in the 1300’s made frequent reference to the motherhood of God, and indeed it is the patristic nature of only the last 5000 years or so that has identified God as male.

Previously in more ancient history, many cultures, recognising the importance of the mother as the centre of the family and source of fertility and new birth, identified their Gods as female.

In these days, in our culture, in which there are recognised complexities of gender and sexuality it is important that the church responds, not so much in trying to be politically correct, but with understanding and inclusivity, and , of course, with love. On this day, Father’s Day, our epistle reading speaks of us all as children of God and speaks of the fact that in Christ there is no division, all are equal, no Jew or Gentile no slave or free, and yes, no male or female.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we do not have and celebrate our individual genders or sexuality, just that, if we are truly Christian, if we are truly in Christ, then as children of God, we are all equal recipients of God’s Grace and, in Christ, should be open and loving enough to recognise that. We are simply children of God.

If we take a few moments and look at the story of the prodigal son we read this morning, father son imagery is used by Jesus in his parable for many reasons.  But ultimately, like our epistle, the parable is about grace. The use of father son imagery, is, of course, culturally contextual- in Jesus’ time, men still inherited from the father, women’s rights and inheritance were pretty non-existent. So the context of the parable would have been familiar to all.

Jesus was speaking to a mixture of religious leaders, and crowds of both Jews and Gentiles from mixed social backgrounds and with a simple story, he addressed them all in his parable.

When you read commentaries about this parable, there are a multitude of conclusions and meanings given to the story. The Pharisee’s, having had faith all along, and supposedly loyal, are likened to the older son who is jealous of the sinner, the prodigal son, being welcomed back by the father. And to some extend that could apply to today’s church, fiercely defending their right to their traditions and “their” church, whilst not welcoming those who, in their eyes, are not deserving or don’t belong. The prodigal is also for some commentators likened to all of us, those who have often strayed and taken advantage of God’s grace, but have the opportunity to turn back home, to repent, and be welcomed back into God’s presence. Others say the parable is al about the father, revealing something of the nature of God the Father.

I could go on with these differing interpretations, but ultimately the parable is about grace. The undeserved love of God given equally to both sons, to us all, not something we can earn by being “good” Christians, by doing good deeds, or by attending church each Sunday, and equally not something we can have by squandering all God blesses us with and then thinking we have to earn our place by working frantically as a menial slave to gain God’s favour.

But we can’t know God’s grace unless we are open to it. The prodigal son had to recognise his error and turn back home for his father to welcome him, to have some humility. The other son had to learn to forgive, to love, to be grateful and not jealous in order to recognise the grace of his father.

And the father, the father’s love was indiscriminate, something difficult for the Pharisees in Jesus’ audience to recognise, something difficult for today’s church often to accept. We heard Paul’s words, at our Trinity service, that we know the love of God revealed through Christ and poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and today, in our Galatians reading that in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, an indiscriminate, all-inclusive love, undeserved by all of us, the very essence of God’s grace.

Today, Father’s Day has become a secular and somewhat commercial event, much like Mother’s Day has subsumed the concept of mothering Sunday. Father’s Day in catholic Europe used to be the day to celebrate St Joseph, but our current Father’s Day, like many traditions resulted in the American commercialisation of an original church commemoration of 362 men lost in a mining accident in 1908, many of them fathers.

But for a church in which the concept of God the Father has become deeply ingrained through the patristic nature of the early church, there is, however, still a great richness in recognising that the perfection of God’s love, the quality of grace is something that first we should accept for ourselves, and others, as God’s children.

 But as God’s children we must accept that none of us is a favoured child, we all are, we are all equal in Christ. And perhaps we might see this as a perfect example of fatherhood, or motherhood, to which we might strive.

Today, on Father’s Day, these two passages reveal to us that we can all seek such grace and love in all our relationships, remembering especially today, that these are the qualities that we should strive to attain in relationships between fathers and their children, whether that be in our own families, or in encouraging and helping those relationships in families who struggle or are broken.

We are all God’s children, in Christ we are all one, neither male nor female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, black or white, able or differently abled, refugee or citizen, even Methodist or Anglican. We are simply God’s children, and God’s love for us, and God’s grace, are indiscriminate and perfect and the inheritance we are all to be given is eternal life.